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From technology and talent recruitment to public relations, three Arizona State University alumni have discovered how entrepreneurship is elevated through human communication.
“I chose communication because it was a broad-based major,” said Kathleen Duffy Ybarra, who graduated from the university in 1981. “We could take the things we were most passionate about and go after them … so we could build our career.”
In April 2016, the ASU Alumni Association celebrated the achievements of distinguished alumni leaders who have established successful businesses across various industries. Nineteen organizations were honored with the Sun Devil 100 (formerly Sun Devil Select) award for demonstrating innovation, growth and entrepreneurial spirit. Among the winners included three communication majors — Charles “Reagan” Jackson, Jennifer Kaplan and Kathleen Duffy Ybarra — from the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
“I always wanted to be an entrepreneur,” said Jackson, a partner in CEO Etc. — an information and technology services company based in Texas. “To run my own business and make it the best I could was just a natural thing for me.”
In 2004, Jackson graduated from the university and moved back to Texas with his wife Lynde, who was also a communication major. He started selling office supplies and information technology services and products with a partner. The business venture grew from the two partners to more than 40 employees in four different technology-related divisions: computers, electronics, communications and security.
CEO Etc. provides high-speed Fiber internet in virtually any location, including rural areas with limited access. In addition, the business works with restaurants and retail to offer everything from network configuration and digital signage to audio, security and surveillance systems.
“We partner with our clients to develop the best solution for them,” said Jackson. “My degree from ASU helped me learn how to decipher what people’s needs are and implement that across the board.”
Kaplan, a graduate in the class of ’96, used her communication degree with an emphasis in public relations to start her own firm Evolve Public Relations and Marketing in Scottsdale, Arizona.
“I get to use all the incredible skills and lessons I learned at ASU,” said Kaplan. “I apply what I studied in my major to what I do for a living and it’s awesome. It’s exactly what I wanted to do.”
Evolve Public Relations and Marketing helps businesses grow their brand through communication and marketing strategies. Past and present clients include Chompie’s, LA Fitness, PetSmart, Sprinkles Cupcakes and Windsor Square Historic District.
Kaplan said she continuously challenges herself and her team to think outside the box and stay current with industry trends to revolutionize traditional practices in public relations.
“I know everyone wants to succeed, but it’s a part of who I am,” said Kaplan. “To me, there’s not an option to not succeed … when you want to succeed so badly, you just do it.”
Similarly, Ybarra wanted to pursue a career public relations or human resources but her unique skill set in recruiting took her down a different career path after graduation in 1981.
“Recruiting wasn’t even on my radar, which ironically enough it should have been because that’s one of the things I did a lot of at ASU,” said Ybarra, the current board chair of the ASU Alumni Association. “I was in Devils’ Advocates. I was in a sorority. I did summer orientation, recruiting new students.”
After spending eight years as the director of research at Tirocchi-Wright, Inc. — an executive search consulting firm — Ybarra started her own business Duffy Group Inc., a global research and recruitment firm, in 1991. Unlike traditional recruitment firms, Ybarra’s business utilizes a cost-effective model that works in billable time rather than by a percentage of the candidate’s salary, which puts the recruiting budget in the hands of the customer.
“We just celebrated our 25th anniversary, and I had lots of very kind words said to me by my employees and clients,” said Ybarra. “The type of leader I want to be remembered as is one who really cares first and foremost about the team.”
In addition, Ybarra said she wants to be remembered as the biggest Sun Devil supporter and encourager of people to stay connected to the university. Her daughter and second-generation Sun Devil Teresa just graduated with a Bachelor of Science in communication. She’s following in her mother’s footsteps and has a position in recruitment at HonorHealth.
“You’re always honored to be recognized by your alma mater, especially for starting something and having it be a successful enterprise,” said Ybarra.